By Ed McAllister
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Oil and gas producer Algeria is sitting on huge undeveloped reserves of shale gas that the country now intends to develop with the help of international partners, the OPEC member's energy minister said on Wednesday.
The African nation of Algeria, already a major exporter of oil and natural gas, could become an even bigger exporter in the coming years as it develops up to 1,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas trapped in shale rock more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) below the surface.
"We are interested in growing unconventional gas reserves. Based on estimates, the reserves might be as high as 1,000 trillion cubic feet," Youcef Yousfi, Algeria's minister of energy and mines, told the CERAWeek conference in Houston. Pilot tests will begin next year, he said.
Shale gas development in the United States has already revolutionized the U.S. gas market, turning a potential big importer into a nation with about 100 years of domestic supply, thanks to new drilling technologies.
The transformation in the United States has companies and countries across the globe scrambling to replicate the success and develop shale gas reserves of their own.
"The preliminary results of our evaluation of shale gas potential indicate that the potential is at least comparable to the major plays known in the United States," Yousfi said.
Algeria has no experience of developing shale gas, which involves relatively new technologies such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. It is seeking help from international companies to develop the reserves.
"The development of the unconventional hydrocarbons will be a new experience that we will be willing to share with companies that have demonstrated their know-how in this field," Yousfi said.
(Reporting by Edward McAllister; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)